The U.S. House Agriculture Committee’s Subcommittee on Horticulture and Organic Agriculture held a hearing Wednesday to review the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) proposals for specialty crops and organic agriculture in the 2007 Farm Bill.
Subcommittee Chairman Dennis Cardoza (D-Calif.) said specialty crops, including organic, comprise a substantial percentage of American agriculture, but receive far less than their fair share in federal support.
"Organic farmers comprise one of the fastest growing sectors of American agriculture, but lag behind traditional crops in representation at the federal level. Many of the crops covered by this subcommittee have waited far too long to become part of federal farm programs," Cardoza said. “We must look for resourceful and innovative ways to weave non-traditional commodities into existing programs and create new ones that suit the unique needs of these industries."
The subcommittee heard testimony from USDA Deputy Secretary Chuck Conner, who outlined budget figures under the specialty crop title to the USDA 2007 farm bill proposals, which the agency released on Jan. 31.
“The [Department of Agriculture’s] farm bill proposal recognizes the needs of the organic agricultural industry and identifies several initiatives to assist it,” Conner said.
Total expenditures would be about $61 million over 10 years, which the Organic Trade Association called for more than that amount be included in each year of the five-year farm bill cycle.
"Organic farmers and the rest of the organic business community appreciate being mentioned in the proposal, organic farmers need a Farm Bill that reflects a farm-to-table strategy," said Caren Wilcox, OTA’s executive director.
The USDA is also proposing a modest $1 million to “fund the collection and publication of organic production and market data,” which is intended to make up for the current lack of solid data on the supply and pricing of key organic commodities that is offered conventional farmers.
Dozens of California’s organic farmers, businesses, and organizations last month demanded that Cardoza ensure the 2007 farm bill provides a significant increase in federal investment in their industry. The coalition wants Cardoza to include some specific legislative language to boost resources for organic production, research and marketing.
“At the very least, federal investment in organic agriculture should be equivalent to its proportional share of the U. S. food market,” the group told Cardoza in a letter.
Despite organic foods comprising three percent of the entire retail food market, federal funding aimed specifically at organic growers makes up less than one-tenth of one percent of current farm bill spending.
A transcript of Conner’s opening remarks did not contain the hearing’s question and answer period. A request for comment from Rep. Cardoza’s office was not immediately returned.
A full transcript of the hearing will be posted on the committee’s website within six weeks.
The newly formed subcommittee will be one of six House Agriculture subcommittees involved in reauthorization of farm programs in this year’s farm bill.
The farm bill authorizes commodity support, agricultural trade, marketing, food assistance, and rural development policies over several years. The current farm bill was written in 2002, and many of the provisions in that bill will expire in September.